IAS-Research Talk by Johannes Jaeger: “Structuralist perspectives on the evolution of developmental processes”

Date and time: March 1, Thursday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Johannes Jaeger. Associate Faculty, Complexity Science Hub (CSH) Vienna. Visiting Scientist, Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD)

Title: Structuralist perspectives on the evolution of developmental processes

Abstract: The organisational approach to living systems draws on the organicist movement from the 1920s and 30s. In this lecture, I will present a different line of historical influence of this research tradition. It traces through the work of Waddington and Schmalhausen to the process structuralists of the 1970s and 80s. These biologists were less concerned with the overall organisation of autonomous self-maintaining organisms. Instead, their research focus lies on the structures underlying the dynamics of evolving developmental proc.esses. These structures are expressed in terms of morphogenetic fields and their mathematical description by systems of differential equations. They not only determine the pattern-forming repertoire of a developmental process, but also its evolutionary potential, as they determine the possible phenotypic transitions such processes can or cannot produce. In this way, they directly connect to modern concepts of evolvability and the genotype-phenotype map used in current evolutionary developmental biology. I intend to illustrate this neglected history of process structuralism with numerous examples.